Melvin poised to resurrect 'that feeling' next season

758326.jpg

Melvin poised to resurrect 'that feeling' next season

PROGRAMMING NOTE: The Final Cut: 2012 Oakland A's, the story of Oaklands incredible 2012 season, debuts Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California!

OAKLAND -- Tony La Russa described it simply as "the feeling." It's the state of an MLB clubhouse that won't be defeated, that believes -- knows -- they will pull out a win when they need it no matter the odds.

As the 2012 MLB season wound to a close, Bob Melvin -- who joined La Russa as the only A's skippers to garner Manager of the Year honors -- had his Oakland Athletics playing with "the feeling."

NEWS: Melvin named 2012 AL Manager of the Year

The A's became the first team ever to claim a division title after trailing by five games with nine to play. With his team seemingly peaking at the right time, the Game 5 ALDS loss that ended Oakland's season was a shocker to the manager.

"We really didn't think the season would end on that particular day," Melvin said. "It ended way too soon for us."

The 2013 campaign is just a few months around the corner, and Melvin still has two years remaining on his three-year contract to re-kindle that feeling in Oakland.

The front office team that employs Melvin -- Billy Beane (general manager), David Forst (assistant general manager), Farhan Zaidi (director of baseball operations) and Dan Feinstein (director of professional scoutingbaseball development) -- is plenty pleased with the decision to hire Melvin, and extend him through 2014.

"Bringing him in about a year and a half ago was the best decision we've made for this organization in a long time," Forst stated confidently.

It's an easy angle to take in the aftermath of the A's 2012 season. But things looked bleak when Melvin took over for Bob Geren in June of 2011. The A's were 27-36 and on target for their fifth year without a winning season.

"This is going to be quite a challenge," Melvin recalled thinking. He didn't hold that sentiment long, though. "Within a couple weeks I really felt like I belonged."

But belonging and succeeding are two entirely different beasts. Melvin entered the All-Star break of his first full season in Oakland with a 43-43 record -- impressive considering the preseason expectations, but still a distant nine games from the AL West-leading Rangers.

The road ahead didn't look any easier as the A's eyed a second-half schedule that opened with the Twins, Rangers and Yankees in succession.

That's when it all changed.

Oakland swept the Twins in Minnesota, scoring 24 runs on nine home runs in the three-game series that set the tone for a monster second half. They went 8-1 against the perennial playoff contenders, giving them every indication that if they stayed hot, playoffs were not out of the question.

"That's when the power started to show up across the board," Melvin said. "We felt like we were a different team. We knew we could hold you down, we just weren't sure if we could score enough.

"When we left, I went, 'Hey, something is going on here.'"

The A's showed time and time again that they could score enough, and something was going on in Oakland. Down the stretch, it didn't seem to matter who was at the plate; from Stephen Drew to George Kottaras, they were getting the job done.

Nobody hit like the A's after the All-Star break. They led the majors with 112 home runs and 394 runs scored.

Highlighting his faith in the front office decisions, Melvin said that he stopped bothering to argue with the brain trust over personnel choices.

"By the end of the season," Melvin joked, "I was like, 'Alright, whoever. Just tell me who we got. We'll bring 'em in and make it work.'"

It seemed like a disengaged message from a man who, minutes earlier, explained that the organization had a plan for everything. But that's what made Melvin so effective. He was able to focus all his attention on his lone goal as manager.

"We just played for the day," Melvin said.

The day-by-day approach is made easier when you have your dream job. Melvin, a Bay Area native who has attended his fair share of games at the Coliseum, said he still gets "that feeling" every time he dons the Green and Gold.

Oakland Phenomenon:

On the day he was personally recognized as the best manager in the American League, it was his team's influence on the local culture that afforded Bob Melvin his most fulfilling moment.

"I'm most proud of what we did to invigorate the city," Melvin said.

As the A's bee-lined for the AL West title, the Coliseum rocked.

RATTO: Award validates Melvin's exemplary work

Recalling what stood out in a plenty-memorable season, Melvin couldn't get past the fans Oct. 11 reaction after the magical run finally dead ended in the ALDS.

"The fans giving us a curtain call -- they wouldn't leave," Melvin recalled. "I don't think I've ever seen that before. Detroit's trying to celebrate on the field and they're looking around like, 'What the heck is going on here, you guys are supposed to be leaving in a bad mood.' And it wasn't the case. It was pretty celebratory.

"One of the things that was -- for me -- the most special of all of this was that we really did re-energize an area."

With ownership hesitant to invest in Oakland, A's fans have grown a reputation in the league for not showing up. But down the stretch, local and opposing players couldn't help but respect the chaos of a lit-up Coliseum. With two more years on Melvin's contract, the A's boy-band popularity could quite easily return.

"When you get a full house here, it is electric," Melvin said. "There wasn't a ballpark that we played in this year that was louder than our ballpark at the end of the season."

Two Leagues? No Problem:

When Melvin and Davey Johnson were named 2012 Managers of the Year, they immediately accounted for 33 percent of the individuals who accomplished the feat in both American and National Leagues.

"I think that was probably the one thing that was most special about winning the individual award, being able to do it in both leagues."

Melvin always thought managing in the NL was more difficult, but acknowledged the decision of when to pull a starter is more pivotal in the AL.

"I would hate to get stereotyped as a guy who couldn't manager in one league or the other," Melvin said.

His inclusion on this list pretty much guarantees he won't:

Tony La Russa-- CHW, OAK, STL
Bobby Cox-- TOR, ATL
Lou Piniella -- SEA, CHC
Jim Leyland -- PIT, DET
Davey Johnson -- BAL, WSH
Bob Melvin -- ARI, OAK

"Honored":

If you thought Bob Melvin was sleeping when he was named AL Manager of the Year Tuesday on MLB Network, you were wrong. He certainly wasn't comfortable, either.

"I was in a little tiny room," Melvin said. "I was about as claustrophobic as I could be. I think toward the end I just wanted to get out of the room.

"I didn't care who won."

For fans who waited through multiple commercial breaks to see the winner announced, Melvin said he had no indication of when he was on camera, and acknowledged that he assumed he wasn't when his opponent Buck Showalter was talking. He was.

"The lead in probably is a bit much," Melvin said of the production. "But it really validated the type of the season that we had. (These awards) are more about the organization than anything."

A's spring training Day 43: Shore K's Trout in surprise big league start

A's spring training Day 43: Shore K's Trout in surprise big league start

TEMPE, Ariz. — Rather than join his minor league teammates for workouts like usual, Logan Shore got word Tuesday morning he would take the ball for the A’s against the Los Angeles Angels.

A few hours later, Shore was striking out Mike Trout to highlight his impressive four-inning outing. What an experience it was for Shore, a right-hander drafted last summer in the second round out of the University of Florida.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “There’s not really any words to describe that.”

The A’s scratched No. 5 starter Raul Alcantara, opting to throw him in a minor league game rather than let a division opponent get another look at him for scouting-report purposes. That presented Shore with a surprise opportunity.

He responded with four innings of one-run ball, holding the Angels to two hits. The game would take an ugly turn as the A’s bullpen got lit up in a 14-3 loss. But Shore’s outing was a glimpse of what Oakland might have to look forward to with the 22-year-old. The righty didn’t come out of college with the same hype as Florida teammate A.J. Puk, who the A’s drafted sixth overall last June. But he’s thought to be more polished than Puk at this stage.

Shore went 0-2 with a 2.57 ERA in seven starts with short-season Vermont in his pro debut. This spring, he’s been grouped with high Single-A Stockton, but he hasn’t received his official regular-season assignment yet.

“That’s the kind of lineup that gets your attention a little bit,” manager Bob Melvin said. “I thought he threw the ball really well. He had great command of his fastball, a backdoor sinker, good changeup, good slider. He probably got a little bit tired at the end, but he was very impressive. That’s the first time I got to see him throw.”

Shore pitched in relief for the A’s earlier this spring as a minor league extra, so that helped him keep his nerves in check Tuesday. Still, it was a different challenge tackling what closely resembled the Angels’ regular-season lineup, which features Trout and Albert Pujols in the meat of it.

Trout struck out and flied to right against Shore. Pujols flied to right and singled.

“I grew up watching all those guys, so it’s kind of cool to get to pitch against them,” he said.

HEALTH UPDATES: Left fielder Khris Davis and third baseman Trevor Plouffe, both nursing minor injuries, won’t return to the field until the Bay Bridge Series which starts Thursday night at AT&T Park, Melvin said. Plouffe has missed the past few games with a groin injury and Davis has a right quad issue.

“We’ll just bubble wrap them right now and send them home,” Melvin cracked.

Right-hander Chris Bassitt took another step in his Tommy John recovery with a 30-pitch session that included two sets of 15 pitches, simulating two innings with a break in between.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s play their Cactus League finale Wednesday on the road against the Cubs, but most of the game will feature minor leaguers. All of the players who are heading north to face the Giants will be leaving for the airport sometime in the latter stages of the game.

On that topic, the A’s announced the 43 players that will make up their Bay Bridge roster. It includes 30 players from the 40-man roster, six non-roster invitees and seven extras from minor league camp. Oakland officially has 36 players still in camp, with Saturday the deadline to cut down to the final 25-man roster.

ODDS AND ENDS: After Shore left the game, the Angels struck for five runs in the fifth against Liam Hendriks. … The next inning, highly touted prospect Grant Holmes gave up five runs (four earned) in two-thirds of an inning. Holmes was one of three righties acquired from the Dodgers in the Rich Hill/Josh Reddick trade. Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas were the others.

 

Revisiting the A's top 5 questions from the start of spring

Revisiting the A's top 5 questions from the start of spring

TEMPE, Ariz. — The A’s moving truck has already left the desert, and the team will be bolting for the airport after Wednesday’s Cactus League finale.

Spring training is quickly drawing to a close, with only the three-game Bay Bridge Series remaining before the games start to count. To mark that reality, here’s a look at the five most burning questions Oakland faced back when camp started in mid-February, and what kind of answers have materialized since …

1) Does Sonny Gray return to his old self?
The A’s absorbed their first major injury blow early when Gray, their potential Opening Night starter, went down with a strained lat muscle after a March 7 start. It wasn’t exactly what the right-hander had in mind coming off a 2016 season that sent him to the disabled list twice. Encouraging news came last week when Gray was allowed to start throwing again one week ahead of schedule.

When exactly he returns is tied to how soon he gets back on the mound. He’s been playing catch out to 105 feet, but manager Bob Melvin stressed the A’s aren’t going to rush things with Gray. Until further notice, the assumption is still that Gray will miss most of April.

2) Can a ‘healthy’ outlook be sustained?
Given what you read in the above item, obviously things haven’t gotten off to a great start in this department. Jake Smolinski, a candidate to make the team as an extra outfielder, showed up to camp with a sore right shoulder and required labrum surgery. Second baseman Joey Wendle, who was ticketed for Triple-A to begin with, also has been set back by a shoulder injury. But the focus, from an injury standpoint, is on Gray. If he were to miss just the first month of the regular season, that’s an absence the A’s should be able to cover. Any longer than that, and his presence really will be missed.

After last year’s roster-wide rash of injuries, better health is the most important first step in the A’s escaping the American League West cellar.

3) Who wins the closer’s job?
Six weeks of spring training has yet to reveal an answer here. If Melvin knows who his closer is, he isn’t saying publicly. Lefty Sean Doolittle, one of the veteran anchors of the relief corps, said Melvin hasn’t discussed roles yet with the relievers themselves. Expect more news on that during the Bay Bridge Series, which runs Thursday through Saturday. Of the four assumed ninth-inning candidates — Doolittle, John Axford, Santiago Casilla and Ryan Madson — none has been lights-out in Cactus League games.

The guess here is Madson, the A’s main closer last season, gets the first crack at the role this year as well.

“I don’t even think it’s on anybody’s radar,” Doolittle said Tuesday. “That’s one of the things that makes our bullpen effective. We’re not as attached to those roles as people might think.”

4) Where does Ryon Healy fit into the puzzle?
He fits in a little at first base, a little at third base and a little at DH. What we know is that Healy’s bat will be in the lineup regularly, it’s just a matter of where. Melvin spread his time pretty evenly between all three spots. Healy responded with a terrific spring at the plate. Entering Tuesday, he ranked third in the Cactus League with 16 RBI, the most spring RBI by an Athletic since Kevin Kouzmanoff also had 16 in 2010. Healy will play first base against lefties, platooning with Yonder Alonso. He’ll spell Trevor Plouffe at third. But it stands to reason a large chunk of his time will have to come at DH.

“I think he’s handled it well,” Melvin said. “It’s not easy, especially for a younger guy that was originally a first baseman. He worked as hard as anybody last year to make himself a third baseman. Now, it’s a little bit different for him and he knew that coming into camp. I think he’s handled his time wisely, worked hard at both positions, and he knows he has to move around a little bit this year.”

5) Can the A’s get their mojo back?
If a positive clubhouse vibe plays any part in a team turning around its on-field fortunes, the A’s are off to a good start. The early indications are that newcomers Plouffe, Matt Joyce, Casilla and Rajai Davis — those latter two are in their second stints with the A’s — all add some nice leadership qualities and mesh well with the returning vets. True, you can’t really read too much in spring training, when everyone always gets along in the spirit and optimism of a new season. But the A’s do seem to have better components up and down their roster to lead to a healthier season-long chemistry.

Just as you’ve read in the past, getting off to a strong start in the standings is the most effective way to maintain that chemistry.